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Jim Harbaugh Gushing Over Alex Smith May Be Due To Lockout, 2011 NFL Draft

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If you've been paying attention to the Bay Area this NFL offseason, then you've noticed something we thought would be unlikely -- some Alex Smith love. Indeed, the 49ers QB may not be hearing that love from the fans but head coach Jim Harbaugh has repeatedly suggested he wants Smith on his team.

In fact, the love fest continued last week. Here's Harbaugh on Smith:

I'm not gonna hide my feelings. I like Alex Smith. I like him as a football player, as a person, and he'll make the best decision for him. Some people say Alex Smith needs a fresh start, needs a new place to be or whatever. I say, 'Let that place be here."

Considering Smith was considered a slam dunk to leave San Francisco at one point this year, this is a surprising move for Harbaugh. But a closer look shows that it may be one of his only decisions.

As SB Nation's Niners Nation notes, there are likely several reasons this is going on.

First, the lockout. If we don't have a new labor deal struck by March 4, there will be some sort of work stoppage. And when that comes, there can not be contact between coaches and players. That means Harbaugh couldn't bring in a new quarterback during this time (player movement is not allowed), and can't talk to any quarterbacks. That means continuity is incredibly important and he can only get that with Smith.

Second, the 2011 NFL draft. Is there a year-one starting QB out there? And one that will be available when the 49ers pick? It sure doesn't look like it. In addition to this, even if a QB is drafted, there's no guarantee a labor deal is done in time for him to receive any sort of real training over the summer.

So what this really comes down to is that Harbaugh may not have much of a choice on his 2011 quarterback.